Notes From a Teacher

by Christi Carpenter, teacher and Jossey-Bass’ summer teacher consultant

When I was in college and I engaged in competitive reading, I developed a rule for seasonal fiction reading:  read American authors in the summer, Russians in the winter, and Brit Lit and World Lit in the transitional seasons of spring and fall.  This sensible system served me well as I read my way through Faulker, Fitzgerald and Ellison in the long, warm days of June, July and August, saving Tolstoy, Dostoevsky  and Bulgakov  for the dark and melancholy days from November to February (they got more months since their books tended to be lengthier).  Austen, the Brontes, Borges, Marquez, and Rushdie were consumed March-May and again in September and October.

The only problem with my system is it allotted no time for the reading of non-fiction, something that became increasingly important to me as I became obsessed with physics, and, later, Malcolm Gladwell started writing books.  I have a new system, still seasonal, but now based on my passion for teaching.   I teach English, with a heavy emphasis on independent reading, to a skeptical crowd of 12 and 13 year olds in Oakland, CA.  Currently, my annual reading schedule looks more like this:

Winter:  Young Adult Fiction.  For recommendations…and because a lot of it is really good and entertaining.  How many times have I recommended a book too heartily and had a student steal it out from under me before I’m finished?  How many times have I gotten exactly what I wanted all along when this happened?

Spring:  Young Adult Fiction.  For recommendations for students… and because a lot of YA books are serial, and I am genuinely interested in what happens to Katniss/Jonah/Tyray.   But not Bella: I would do anything for book love, but I won’t do that.

Summer:  Books about Teaching and Learning.  Subcategory—Inspirational/Theoretical.  Summer is the time for the books that make me contemplate my teaching philosophy, learn about new directions in educational policy and be inspired by outstanding educators.

Autumn:  Books about Teaching and Learning.  Subcategory—Practical.  As a new school year begins, I’m all about praxis.  Give me concrete strategies and applicable techniques; I’m back in the classroom with 150 new middle schoolers and this is always going to be the best year ever.

Typically, I travel internationally in the summer, which means, in addition to reading all those big-picture teaching books, I have time and freedom to read ridiculous (and heavy in a backpack…why don’t I get an e-reader already?) amounts of fiction.

This summer, though, I stayed stateside, and am currently working as a Teacher Consultant for Jossey-Bass.  I am literally surrounded by books.  When they told me about the employee comp system (wherein I can request any title they publish FOR FREE), I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.

Now, as August begins, I look back on my summer books and forward to my autumn ones.  These are the lists I’ve compiled of my Teacher Reads 2013.

The Inspirational/Theoretical Books of Summer

Up Where We Belong and Through Ebony Eyes (Gail Thompson)

These amazing titles by Gail Johnson are refreshing and candid discussions of African American and Latino students written for white teachers.  I love this author’s insistence on high standards for all students.  Johnson refutes a common attitude among well-intentioned middle-class and white teachers that to expect black and brown students to perform well academically is oppressive.  This author argues that teaching all students to a high level of rigor is evidence of love and regard.  Love and regard her.



Why Don’t Students Like School? (Daniel Willingham)

Full of current research, this book is a neuro-scientist’s look at the customs, norms, and rules of school, and how these sometimes work against our goal of student learning.  This is one of those books that makes you feel smarter by reading it, but also makes you laugh out loud even when you’re reading it in a public place.



The Queen of Education (LouAnne Johnson)

By the woman made famous by writing what became the movie “Dangerous Minds”, but don’t judge her for that.  This book is a conversation with a teacher I have a professional crush on.  She’s wise and funny and passionate.  She wants to be said “Queen of Education”, and I want to be her Lady-in-Waiting.



Teacherprenuers (Barnett Berry)

As I mentioned, I’m working for Jossey-Bass this summer (publisher of this and all other books on this list), along with doing a research project on teacher leadership.  This book isn’t being released to the public until this week, but I got the chance to sneak a peek at it early.   Fingers crossed that this book, which outlines a way for teachers to “lead without leaving [the classroom],” proves to be prophetic.


Practice Perfect (Doug Lemov)

Lemov, of “Teach Like A Champion” fame, recently released this book, which makes the case that practice makes permanent.  Lemov comes at me with special bona fides: his 2010 book, “Teach Like a Champion” revolutionized my teaching.  This book has rules for “getting better at getting better”.  I need to adhere to these myself, and help my students do them.



The Practical Books of Autumn

Teach Like A Champion (Doug Lemov)

I mentioned above that this book revolutionized my practice, and I don’t just mean the first time I read it: every time I dip into this book again, I take something from it that makes me a better teacher.  “Cold Call,” “Right is Right,” and “No Opt Out” changed the way I call on students for the way better.



Reading Without Limits (Maddie Witter)

Yes, please!  This book is the book I would write if I could.  Just kidding, that book is everything written by Borges and/or Calvino.  But, this book has a lot to recommend it, too. It’s cover-to- cover specific things a teacher can do to help her students love and be excellent at reading.  Includes EXACTLY how to include choice, shared, and guided reading in your classroom.  Kind of a “Daily 5” or “CAFÉ Book” for secondary teachers.


The Literacy Cookbook (Sarah Tantillo)

I love the teacher books that make me wish I were a student again in that author’s classroom.  Ms. Tantillo’s classroom sounds like a joyful, rigorous place and one where a lot of learning happens.  Her ideas are not ways to get the kids who already know it to perform, they expand and encourage new skills and deeper knowledge.  Evidence-based and practical, this book hits the sweet spot.



Building Academic Language (Jeff Zweirs)

Don’t judge this book by its cover, because it looks pretty boring.  This title, though, made me stop on almost every page and jot down an idea for something I want to try in my classroom or learn more about.  Over half of my students are English language learners and developing academic language is critical for all of my middle schoolers.  Not just for English teachers, either; Zweirs’ book has sections for all subjects, and includes ways content area teachers can use academic discussions.



Christi Carpenter is an English teacher in Oakland, California. This summer she is working as a teacher consultant for Jossey-Bass, offering a teacher’s perspective on professional development. Christi cannot believe she is entering her thirteenth year of classroom teaching.

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One Response to Notes From a Teacher

  1. mary sue schottenfels says:

    As someone who NEVER sees Christi Carpenter without a book, I can vouch for her passion…and her intelligence. And now totally impressed with her views and her reviews. If I were a teacher, I would be all about these recommendations!!

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